Donald Sampson, 38, an Umatilla Indian, is a fish biologist and executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commisssion, based in Portland, Ore. The commission represents the four tribes with treaty rights to Columbia River fish - the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Yakama.
"People come up to me
and say, "Why are you still killing fish when they are endangered?"
"When our people made a treaty, we gave away
more than 40 million acres of land, but we reserved the right to
fish. The (government) promised that the fish would be in the
river. The courts said, "You can catch half of all the fish," but
we're not catching that at all.
"We have cut back
on our fishing voluntarily, but no one else has stopped killing
fish. The big, indiscriminate killers - the dams - operate 365 days
a year, 24 hours a day. They say, "Give up a little more," and we
say. "We've already given up more."
"If we stop
fishing, we lose. The Makah tribe gave us a wake-up call on this,
because they stopped killing whales 70 years ago, and now they are
having such a tough time getting (the right to hunt whales)
"An (eastern Washington) farmer came in and
told me how hard his grandfather worked to make a homestead three
generations ago, and how things could go belly-up if the Snake
River dams are breached. I told him about my grandfather, who
worked the same hard to make a living fishing the Columbia, and he
was a 700th generation fisherman. My grandfather went off to fight
in World War II for this country, and when he came back he found
his business underwater, flooded by the federal
"When I put it in these terms, the farmer
understood why Indians fight for the fish.
people, our culture, is still suffering because of the loss of the
fish. We were never compensated for the loss of the fishery, but we
think the farmers should be when the dams are
"We have to be aggressive, because
there is no justice unless you create it."